I was one of the happiest men on the 21st July 2012 when I was gifted the book First Man. I awaited this book and I finally got it as my birthday present. First Man is about Neil Armstrong, it’s his chronicle from being a boy in school to being the first ever man to step foot on the moon.

My fetish for the moon and space travel has always been living in me since I first visited the Nehru Planetarium in Mumbai when I was eight or nine. I don’t remember any of it now but I remember to have bought books only seeing their cover if there was a rocket or the moon on it. Professionally I am nothing close to what it takes to be a space traveler but otherwise I could sit for hours together and have a healthy conversation with one.

This is a weird story that I am writing today. It wouldn’t speak of what’s been already spoken, perhaps. But I would eccentrically talk about something that I never realized for the last 29 years of my obsession with space and astronauts. Although I am still to finish three fourth of the book that I have begun reading; I am already a little disengaged from the heroes Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. And if you are curious,  let me tell you why.


They were two to fly to the Moon, I was told this in school. On 16th of July 1969 Apollo 11 left for the earth’s natural satellite. Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were heroes then and now and the first time I heard the name of their third comrade was when I was answering my mother’s question about the first men on the moon. She was the first person to tell me that there were not two but three men and the third being Michael Collins.

For about forty-three years together the world has associated Armstrong and Aldrin with the moon whenever they look at it. But whoever wondered what happened with Michael Collins who stayed off the limelight. Recently I had a conversation with a friend of mine at work when we spoke about walking on the moon and he mentioned how the two of them must have experienced. Then I mentioned the third member and he said, “Of course him too!”

The truth. Michael Collins never stepped foot on the moon. He never stood on the moon being photographed. As cruel it would sound, he never even stepped out of the spacecraft.

I am very eager to read if anything about this is mentioned in the book that is written as a biography for Neil Armstrong. But I am even more ardent to speak about this man who was this close to experience the out-of-this-world feeling but didn’t. My anxiety is to know what it takes to think and be like Michael Collins on the 21st of July 1969 when the first landing foot on the Moon was recorded in the history of mankind.

Collins was the commander of the spacecraft, Columbia. The Apollo 11 mission to the moon was specifically designed only for 2 astronauts. Collins had to leave the 2 men after entering the lunar orbit, as his spacecraft was not designed for landing on the surface of the moon. Michael Collins was regarded to be one of the world’s most experienced aviators then, which is why he was selected for the Apollo 11 mission.

The Apollo 11 consisted of lunar lander named Eagle, and an orbiting mothership named Columbia. Both of these were discharged into space on a giant Saturn V rocket on 16 July 1969. Neil Armstrong was the commander of the Apollo 11 mission with Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins his associates. The three men cruised towards the moon for three days inside the space shuttle Columbia. It was Collins’ job to get back his fellow astronauts to Columbia after the lunar lander jets off from the surface of the Moon.

As it had never been fired on the Moon’s surface, Michael Collins was very apprehensive about the reliability of the ascent engine of Eagle that took Armstrong and Aldrin to the Moon. His greatest fear was if the engine fails to ignite, his two mates would be stranded on the Moon forever to die when they run out of oxygen. Although Collins would be in the lunar orbit but as Columbia was not designed to land on the surface there was no way he could be of any help to the two men. Collins swept over the lunar surface waiting for his fellow astronauts to take off from the Moon’s surface. The Lunar Module was separated from the Command Module on the 20th July 1969. “Keep talking to me, guys,” said the nervous Collins as the duo cruised away from Columbia”.

Apollo 11 is recalled as a flawless technological triumph but the three astronauts believed there was a real chance for a disaster to occur. “My secret terror for the last six months has been leaving them on the Moon and returning to Earth alone; now I am within minutes of finding out the truth of the matter,” he said. While the two moon landers were together finishing their mission on the surface of the moon and the whole planet earth praying for their safety there was one man who was left alone in the entire cosmos.

As Eagle was off sight from Columbia that was orbiting behind the Moon, Michael Collins became planet Earth’s most far-off unaccompanied lonely traveler. Technically he was separated from the rest of humanity by approximately 4,00,000 kilometers of emptiness. On the other side, the Moon blocked all radio transmissions possible. He was out of sight, out of touch and out of any contact from any existing being anywhere.

Michael Collins was the unsung hero of the Apollo 11 mission. Charles Lindbergh, one of the greatest aviators of America once wrote to Collins after his return, that his part of the mission was of great profundity, he has experienced an aloneness unknown to man before.

Collins answered a few questions at the NASA press release after the mission.  Below are my favourite questions stated to him by a reporter asking, “Circling the lonely moon by yourself, the loneliest person in the universe, weren’t you lonely?”

“Far from feeling lonely or abandoned, I feel very much a part of what is taking place on the lunar surface. This venture has been structured for three men, and I consider my third to be as necessary as either of the other two. I don’t mean to deny a feeling of solitude. It is there, reinforced by the fact that radio contact with the Earth abruptly cuts off at the instant I disappear behind the moon, I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”

When asked what was his strongest memory of Apollo 11 he said, “Looking back at Earth from a great distance. 

I really believe that if the political leaders of the world could see 
their planet from a distance of 100,000 miles their outlook could be
fundamentally changed. That all-important border would be invisible, 
that noisy argument silenced. The tiny globe would continue to turn,
 serenely ignoring its subdivisions, presenting a unified facade that
 would cry out for unified understanding, for homogeneous treatment.
 The earth must become as it appears: blue and white, not capitalist
or Communist; blue and white, not rich or poor; blue and white, not
 envious or envied.

 Small, shiny, serene, blue and white, fragile.”

“I am now truly alone and absolutely alone from any known life. I am it,” he wrote in his capsule in Columbia on the 21st July 1969.

Happiness Always,

I am,


No content of this article may be copied or duplicated without the writer’s consent. Copyright © 2012 Gaurav Chavan. All Rights Reserved.


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